By Rick White
ALBUQUERQUE — One week after thinking they might have blown a shot at making the playoffs, the Portales Rams are within a game of winning the school’s first state baseball title.
Senior left-hander Seth Clabaugh worked through early control problems and pitched a six-hitter, and Portales took advantage of some shoddy Raton defense en route to a 4-2 win Thursday in a Class 3A semifinal game at UNM Stadium.
The Rams (18-9), who had to win a district playoff game just to make the state tournament, meet defending 3A state champion St. Michael’s at 2 p.m. today at Isotopes Park in the title game.
St. Michael’s beat Bernalillo 10-0 in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“At one point in time we didn’t even know if we were going to make it,” Portales coach Greg Hill said. “We had two practices last week not knowing if they were for this year or next year.”
It is the second state title game appearance for the Rams under Hill. Cobre beat Portales 3-1 in the 1997 title game.
Clabaugh (11-2) finished with 15 strikeouts and four walks.
“I felt good,” said Clabaugh, who threw in the neighborhood of 130 pitches. “I don’t like to come out of games at all.”
Hill said he never considered lifting his ace.
“He’s a competitor,” Hill said. “We were either tied or leading when he was struggling. He’s our No. 1, so we were going to stay with him.”
Raton starter Jacob Trujillo (8-3) was nearly as tough on the Rams, scattering seven hits while striking out 11 and walking one.
But the Tigers (16-10) committed six errors behind the gutsy right-hander.
“It seems like when we put the ball in play, they threw the ball around a little bit,” Hill said. “But their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off balance throwing the fastball and mixing in the curveball.
“It seemed like we didn’t swing the bats like we have been. But hopefully, you’re good enough to manufacture some runs and have someone like Seth to keep them down.”
Rams freshman shortstop Ryan Acosta was the only player on either team with more than one hit. Acosta reached on an infield single and scored what proved to be the winning run in a two-run fifth inning, then added an RBI single in the seventh.
Raton, which finished second to St. Mike’s in District 2-3A, threatened several times only to have Clabaugh wiggle out of trouble behind his sharp curve and mitt-popping fastball.
Clabaugh stranded six runners between the second and fourth innings, including a bases-loaded situation in the second when Raton scored its first run.
In the fourth, Chuck Valdez led off with a triple to deep right-center. But Clabaugh got Jarod Moreno on a weak liner to first and struck out the next two batters looking to keep the game tied at 1-1.
Although he gave up a run in the fifth on Isaac Fernandez’ double, Clabaugh finished with a flourish, striking out seven of the final eight batters he faced.
The Rams took the lead for good in the top of the fifth when Nathan Brown reached on an error, stole second, and scored on Acosta’s infield single and a throwing error.
Tyler Rutherford’s single scored Acosta to make it 3-1.
Rutherford was ejected from the game a few pitches later for rough play when he collided with Trujillo while trying to steal second.
Because of the ejection, New Mexico Activities Association rules stipulate that he will have to sit out today’s championship game.